It’s not what you think—I do not have an issue with my weight.
I do, however, have an issue with food, or more specifically, with eating it.
I have several chronic health conditions and multiple severe allergies (I’m allergic to everything…well, almost). But, food was never an issue for me until one day it suddenly was.
My love-hate relationship with food began with developing an allergy to yeast and to everything that contained even a trace of it. (That’s right: no more bread, buns, pizza or croissants.) If you read labels when you’re grocery shopping, you may know that yeast is an ingredient in a lot of foods. I never bought many packaged foods, but who doesn’t like to have a few Doritos once in a while? (Yes, they have yeast extract in them, which is a sneaky name for MSG. Sometimes life is not fair.)
When I least expected it, my life included reading labels and asking about ingredients when I was eating out.
I learned to adapt—mostly. I missed bread, but yeast triggered a severe reaction and a migraine so it was not hard to convince myself to avoid it.
After a while, my yeast-less eating became a part of who I was and I grew accustomed to friends and family pointing out things that I couldn’t eat.
“I made a salad, but it has croutons in it,” or,
“Here’s the box if you want to read the ingredients.”
My usual question became, “Can I eat that?”
I remember stopping at a restaurant while on a road trip and finding very little on the menu that I could eat. My order? A chicken sandwich, hold the bread.
But it didn’t end there…I developed more health problems, and subsequently more problems with food. More doctors, more specialists, more tests—I began to understand how those lab animals felt.
After a few years on my medical mystery tour, I finally had another diagnosis to add to my list—Meniere’s Disease—and a new way of eating that would have to become a way of life in order for me to have any hope of feeling well, even some of the time.
My ENT specialist recommended a strict low-sodium diet (less than 1400 mg per day), and told me to also avoid caffeine and alcohol. I was also told to drink lots of water. (The disease causes a fluid imbalance in the inner ear, which leads to dizziness, vertigo and balance issues…eliminating things that cause the body to retain fluid is necessary to help manage symptoms.) My family call it the “no fun” diet.
The changes were difficult at first—especially the sodium—not only is it added to almost everything on the planet, it is also naturally-occurring in many foods.
I was never a “salt shaker” person, but when I first started cutting back on sodium, I really noticed the difference…and the fact that even a little dash of salt (that I could no longer have) made things taste better.
But, I stuck with it, and after a couple of weeks I didn’t miss the sodium as much. Many people are aware that the average person in North America consumes too much sodium, but what you may not have heard is that it’s surprisingly easy to get used to eating less of it.
The recommended dietary changes started to improve my symptoms, and I knew that I would probably never feel “well” much of the time even if I did everything perfectly (it’s the nature of my combined health issues), but I still had enough symptoms that I suspected there were others foods that were affecting me.
So, I became a food detective.
*Please note that I am not a medical practitioner, nor do I claim to be an expert—that’s my disclaimer. I am sharing my experiences as a way of demonstrating my belief that what we eat has a profound effect on our well-being.
I began keeping a food journal, writing down every single thing I ate and logging my symptoms. This way, I could look for patterns.
With the help of a naturopathic doctor, I also eliminated foods that are known allergens for many people, (dairy, wheat, citrus) then gradually added them back into my diet to see how I reacted. Some things like citrus and strawberries I was able to add back in…other things—like wheat—caused problems, not just with my recent health issues, but with former ones too. (I’ll spare you the details…you’re welcome.)
As a result, I adopted a gluten-free lifestyle, and also discovered that both sugar and dairy cause issues for me so I need to keep my consumption of both of them low.
If you thought I was a difficult person to invite over for dinner before, imagine what it’s been like the last few years. Family and friends are not exactly quick with the dinner invitations anymore because, let’s face it—I am hard to feed.
Eating out is challenging too (salads, dressing on the side) but on the upside, I am a cheap date (no wine, no dessert, no coffee afterwards).
And even though I always ate mostly healthy, I am eating even better now.
Through navigating my eating challenges, I have tried to maintain a sense of humor even when it’s difficult to maintain my weight. (How do you gain weight when you can’t eat anything fun?) Life is too short to stress over the things (and chefs) we can’t control.
Sure, it’s hard to figure out what I can safely eat in a minefield of potential eating disasters, but while my health issues are debilitating at times, they are not terminal. Things could be much worse.
I would not wish for anyone to have the love-hate relationship with food that I have, but if you do experience even mild discomfort after eating a particular food, the idea of keeping a food journal may be helpful to you.
You may be regularly eating something that you’d feel better without.
The old saying that “you are what you eat” really does apply, especially in our world of fast, easy and cheap food-like products that sometimes offer us very little nutritionally.
Learning to read labels and scan restaurant menus has been a good lesson, and one that I recommend…even if (I’m jealous) you are lucky enough to actually be able to eat anything you want.
Terri Tremblett is a freelance writer and editor who also works in finance and dabbles in various artistic pursuits. She is equally at home walking the beach or digging in the dirt but has not yet mastered the art of walking by a book store without going in. Her education did not end when she finished university, as her life regularly proves.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta